With flowers in bloom, shoppers in flip-flops and highs in the mid-70s, it doesn't look a lot like Christmas, anywhere you go. So around these parts, we have to do the next best thing: Close our eyes and listen as the Dunedin Concert Band presents A Christmas Rhapsody, a Boston Pops-style holiday celebration. It comes with a memory-back guarantee that you will return to fields of snow and pine-scented holiday gatherings.
"These are some of the best arrangements of Christmas carols and medleys I've ever heard, and I've been conducting for over 40 years," said Dr. Louis Alan Zagar, the band's music director and conductor. He listened to more than 100 orchestrations within a four-month period before making his final selection.
This weekend, as the band opens its 30th anniversary concert season, two performances are scheduled: 8 p.m. today and 3 p.m. Sunday. The free concerts take place in Edinburgh Hall at the Dunedin Community Center, 1920 Pinehurst Road. Free-will donations, the only source of income for the band, are accepted.
Plan to get there early; last year's show drew a full house, and then some.
"There were no seats to be had," Zagar said. "People were sitting on each other's laps. We had to set up a closed-circuit TV so about 75 could watch the concert in the hallway. An additional 250 were turned away."
Afterward, he was told it might be a good idea to schedule two performances this year.
The original band was organized in 1981 by Ray Hawkinson. When he ran an advertisement in the newspaper asking for musicians, "a whopping 12 people showed up," Zagar said.
Throughout the years, the band had its ups and downs. When Zagar took over in 2008, the group was within a few days of being disbanded, he said.
"There were only 27 band members and they were playing to small audiences."
Zagar, a professional conductor, clarinetist and instrumental music educator, brought gusto and passion to the group -— along with a healthy sense of humor.
Tonight, 10 of the earliest members will be in the 70-piece ensemble, with musicians ranging in age from 13 to 90. Collectively, members have extensive experience playing in the 1940s Big Bands and in military, high school, college and other ensembles.
The band will present 23 traditional carols and beloved musical selections including a Mannheim Steamroller rendition of Away in the Manger.
The concert opens with A Christmas Fantasy, a montage of Joy to the World, The Twelve Days of Christmas, Angels We Have Heard on High and other favorites.
Soprano Pamela Hood Kooyenga will return to sing White Christmas; the arrangement is from the 1942 film Holiday Inn starring Bing Crosby and Fred Astaire.
And get ready for a special Riverdance-style rendition of Greensleeves a.k.a. What Child Is This?
"It's called Celtic Carol and it's not your Grandma's Greensleeves," Zagar said. "It's wild and wooly and flies like the wind. It features the entire percussion section with Irish spoons, snare drums, cymbals, all sorts of stuff.
"They play it like they own it."
Email feature story ideas for Diversions to Terri Bryce Reeves at [email protected] Events must take place in North Pinellas.